“This is more of an everyday look,” Crystal said, tugging a pair of sequin pants further down my hips and stepping back to admire her work. “You look fantastic.” I turned to the mirror. I was wearing a light blue T-shirt, distressed to the point of translucence, low-slung sequin flares, belted, and a pair of brown cowboy boots, hidden but for the toes. My thighs looked more celebrated than they had in years; I barely recognized myself.
“Crystal.” I studied my newly proportioned body. “I look absurd!”
She seemed genuinely surprised. “You look so cute! I wore this exact look last spring!”
It was true — I remembered loving it — but on me, it looked all wrong, like something an overzealous employee might wear at the Hard Rock Cafe. But I wasn’t ready to admit defeat. I’d arrived at Crystal’s house that morning in baggy boxers and sneakers, hopeful that her closet contained the key to unlock a less inhibited version of me, and while we had yet to find it, I was sure a bit more experimentation could get us there.
Crystal is Man Repeller’s Production Manager, and I’m enamored with her style. Seeing what she’s wearing on a given day is my small, Pavlovian reward for showing up. She has reinvigorated my belief in clothing as a form of self-expression. She’ll pair Drake merch with a quilted prairie dress; a T-shirt that says “Born Again Christian Dior” with a cowboy-print midi skirt; a babydoll dress with denim cut-offs and leopard tights, and somehow makes it all seem intuitive. We also wear roughly the same size, meaning that, theoretically, with access to her closet, I could carbon-copy her style.
But could I, really? We share a love of layers and traditional menswear, but we’re otherwise aesthetic opposites. Where I like discipline and order, she thrives on contrast and chaos. Where my limbs stay bare, hers drip in gold (or beads, or literal Ritz crackers enshrined in enamel). Unlike me, she feels “womanly down to her core,” and the way she carries herself reflects that.
The first thing she put me in, before the sequins, was a blue beaded top that might have belonged to a 1920s flapper girl (or so Crystal imagines, “but it’s probably from, like, Dress Barn”), layered over the aforementioned Drake T and denim cut-offs, paired with black Nike Cortez sneakers.
“This will be my summer look, guaranteed,” she said, as she straightened a red Supreme hat on my head and handed me a white wicker bag with pink plastic raffia dangling off the bottom. “Would you ever wear this?”
“Absolutely not.” I laughed, pausing to imagine Crystal in it and knowing, on an immediate gut level, that it would look perfect on her. “I feel like a faulty clone,” I said. But Crystal thought she detected a little pep in my step as we took the outfit for a spin around the block. Who can be sure? The look was so objectively weird that I did feel less like someone who wonders if you like her.
Next, she put me in a color-blocked button-down she’d recently found in a San Francisco thrift store, layered over a tinsel mini skirt and under a babydoll dress, which she unbuttoned into a voluminous, thigh-length vest. For accessories, she paused, then carefully selected a handbag shaped like a chicken and a pair of shoes that looked like dead fish.
“You look perfect,” she said, pinning two golden skeleton hands to the collar of my shirt like they were cufflinks and I was going to prom.
I turned to the mirror in awe. “Literally what is happening inside of your brain?”
“One thousand percent do not have a clue,” she said. “But I’ll be wearing this next week.”
As we walked down the street, looking for a place to document the outfit, a couple of older ladies stopped us. “I love everything about your look,” said one to Crystal, who was wearing tie-dye sweatpants and a massive T-shirt with colorful, kid-like doodles, probably her minimalist pajamas.
“Well thank you so much,” Crystal replied in her slightly Southern drawl, before walking on and forgetting it happened.
Being friends with Crystal means getting used to these exchanges. She is one of the funniest, most enigmatic people I’ve ever met — an inviting energy radiates off of her — which means that, in addition to her outrageous style, she has a celebrity-like air. Everywhere she goes, people want to talk to her. This is probably the most salient proof that trying to replicate her style is a fool’s errand.
Which brings us back to the sequin pants, which were feeling tighter by the minute. “What about your Dickies?” I asked, grasping for a Plan B.
“Oooooooh,” she cooed, turning to her closet to rummage around. “Good call.”
She tossed them to me a moment later, and when I put them on, I immediately felt more like myself. I silently made note of the relief that brought, then added a blue short-sleeved button-down and a brown belt, per her instruction. Next she wrapped a bunch of jewelry around me: a metal cuff, some rings, multiple necklaces, then reached for a black beanie and a pair of aviators with the certainty of a chef reaching for salt and pepper. She seasoned me.
“I’m so glad I didn’t put you in this first,” she said, giving me a satisfied once-over. “Or you would have hated the other looks.” I turned. She might have been right. I felt like Crystal — complex, ironic, fun — but also a little like me. A version of me who’d more freely explored my tastes in my twenties instead of hanging around in the trend margins, waiting for things to flatter me.
Later, we got to talking about personal style — specifically, what keeps me from fully dressing how I want to dress (more androgynously). And she said something that highlighted a key difference in our approaches to style.
“My current focus is deprioritizing how flattering something is,” I said. “I used to wear things that weren’t my taste just because they were flattering, and I try to never do that anymore.”
She paused, looked thoughtful. “I’m not sure I could ever think something that wasn’t my taste was flattering.”
It took me a second to understand her point, but when I finally got it, the unique mechanics of her style came into clearer view: When your basis for flattery is not in what makes you look “good” or thin or “better,” but in what suits your mood and body and deep-seated inclinations, the rules change. You become less like an accountant, searching for the right equation, and more like an artist, feeling your way toward expression. I saw it with my own eyes: Watching her put together an outfit is like watching Bob Ross paint a non-existent mountain range. It’s a pointed, sensory and genuinely joyful experience. Crystal’s style is incredible because it flatters her truest self. I could never approximate it by simply borrowing her clothes.
“I truly don’t dress for attention,” she told me after the second person stopped her on the street. “But when you dress like me, it’s going to happen.” I thought of her fish flops, and how many times I’ve watched her tell an admirer that they were $10 with conspiratorial glee in her voice. “You can’t dress like an asshole and be an asshole,” she added. “It’s one or the other.”
Photos by Crystal Anderson.